Axe Capitalizes on a Legacy of Sexism

There is a long and storied history of “out of control” women appearing in advertisements for chocolate. These women find themselves unable to exercise reason in the face of the highly exaggerated allure of chocolate. Their urge to indulge in a sweet is frequently depicted as sexual in nature, and their satisfaction upon tasting it as an orgasm.   The widespread cultural acceptance of this trope, and our failure to appropriately challenge this representation of women has allowed Axe Body Spray to co-opt this imagery in their own advertising, resulting in the infamous “Chocolate Man” ads.

It is interesting to note that it is women alone that are shown to fall victim to these irrational consumptive urges. According to Katharine Parkin, this paradigm applies solely to women, as in our society “men have more freedom to indulge in all kinds of pleasures (Anderson). Chocolate, then, is being marketed as an outlet, a safer and more acceptable desire to attempt to slake. The 1960’s Cadbury Flake commercial shown below provides a great example of the longstanding history of this trope. In this advertisement, the women tastes the chocolate in a ludicrously seductive way, and imagery of a great release, or orgasm, is provided upon the first taste by the cutaway shot of a waterfall. This campaign was evidently not subject to too much negative scrutiny, as Cadbury continued to produce commercials in this vain for decades.

The Axe “Chocolate Man” television spot picks up where the Cadbury Flake and hundreds of similar advertisements leave off.   The protagonist, a teenage boy, applies Axe’s chocolate scented body spray and instantaneously is transformed into a man composed entirely of chocolate, and an object of female desire (This transformation clearly has a seriously questionable racial component that merits its own discussion). Women cannot contain their lust for this “Chocolate Man”, and are shown groping and throwing themselves at him. This premise mirrors perfectly the now prototypical portrayal investigated by Emma Robertson’s Chocolate, Women and Empire. Robertson describes a scenario in which a man gives a woman chocolate, a gesture that causes her to become “irrationally overwhelmed and rendered slaves to the chocolates. By a process of association [women are] seduced by the male gifter” (Robertson, 54). It is due to the widespread use and acceptance of this very trope that Axe’s commercial is able to exist. Without this long-standing conflation between chocolate and the notion of out of control female sexuality, this commercial would be nonsense.

Our reinterpretations of the “Chocolate Man” commercial, shown below, attempt to satirize what is at its core a conflation between female consumptive desires and sexual desires. Our ads show women reacting with lust to the presence of pizza and pasta as a means for selling Axe body sprays in these scents. Pizza and pasta, like chocolate, are considered by many to be indulgent and delicious foods. However, these ads simply do not translate; they don’t make sense in the same way the chocolate version did. These foods, without a history of gendered advertising behind them, read as silly and ridiculous when conflated with female sexuality. In this way, these satirical images demonstrate the way in which Axe’s campaign depends on the chocolate industry’s history of female objectification.

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Anderson, L.V. “What’s Up with the Stereotype That Women Love Chocolate?”Slate. 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

“1960s Flake Ad – Possibly Banned.” YouTube. YouTube, 2009. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

“Axe :: Chocolate Man.” YouTube. YouTube, 2008. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.


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